Armstrong Whitworth

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Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd
Industry Engineering, Shipbuilding
  • W. G. Armstrong & Company
  • Elswick Ordnance Company
  • Sir W. G. Armstrong & Company
  • Sir William Armstrong, Mitchell and Co.
Founded1847 (W.G. Armstrong Co.)
Founder William George Armstrong
Take over
Successor Vickers-Armstrongs
Headquarters Newcastle upon Tyne, England
Products Aircraft
Subsidiaries Vickers Armstrong
Armstrong Siddeley

Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd was a major British manufacturing company of the early years of the 20th century. With headquarters in Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, Armstrong Whitworth built armaments, ships, locomotives, automobiles and aircraft.


The company was founded by William Armstrong in 1847, becoming Armstrong Mitchell and then Armstrong Whitworth through mergers. In 1927, it merged with Vickers Limited to form Vickers-Armstrongs, with its automobile and aircraft interests purchased by J D Siddeley.


In 1847, the engineer William George Armstrong founded the Elswick works at Newcastle, to produce hydraulic machinery, cranes and bridges, soon to be followed by artillery, notably the Armstrong breech-loading gun, with which the British Army was re-equipped after the Crimean War. In 1882, it merged with the shipbuilding firm of Charles Mitchell to form Armstrong Mitchell & Company and at the time its works extended for over a mile (about 2 km) along the bank of the River Tyne. [1] Armstrong Mitchell merged again with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth in 1897. [2] The company expanded into the manufacture of cars and trucks in 1902, and created an "aerial department" in 1913, which became the Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft subsidiary in 1920.

In 1927, it merged with Vickers Limited to form Vickers-Armstrongs.


The Armstrong Whitworth was manufactured from 1904, when the company decided to diversify to compensate for a fall in demand for artillery after the end of the Boer War. [3] It took over construction of the Wilson-Pilcher, designed by Walter Gordon Wilson, and produced cars under the Armstrong Whitworth name until 1919, when the company merged with Siddeley-Deasy and to form Armstrong Siddeley.

The Wilson-Pilcher was an advanced car, originally with a 2.4-litre engine, that had been made in London from 1901 until 1904 when production moved to Newcastle. When Armstrong Whitworth took over production two models were made, a 2.7-litre flat four and a 4.1-litre flat six, the cylinders on both being identical with bore and stroke of 3.75in (95mm). The engines had the flywheel at the front of the engine, and the crankshaft had intermediate bearings between each pair of cylinders. Drive was to the rear wheels via a dual helical epicyclic gears and helical bevel axle. The cars were listed at £735 for the four and £900 for the six. They were still theoretically available until 1907. According to Automotor in 1904, "Even the first Wilson-Pilcher car that made its appearance created quite a sensation in automobile circles at the time on account of its remarkably silent and smooth running, and of the almost total absence of vibration". [4]

The first Armstrong Whitworth car was the 28/36 of 1906 with a water-cooled, four-cylinder side-valve engine of 4.5 litres which unusually had "oversquare" dimensions of 120 mm (4.7 in) bore and 100 mm (3.9 in) stroke. Drive was via a four-speed gearbox and shaft to the rear wheels. A larger car was listed for 1908 with a choice of either 5-litre 30 or 7.6-litre 40 models sharing a 127 mm (5.0 in) bore but with strokes of 100 mm (3.9 in) and 152 mm (6.0 in) respectively. The 40 was listed at £798 in bare chassis form for supplying to coachbuilders. These large cars were joined in 1909 by the 4.3-litre 18/22 and in 1910 by the 3.7-litre 25, which seems to have shared the same chassis as the 30 and 40.

In 1911, a new small car appeared in the shape of the 2.4-litre 12/14, called the 15.9 in 1911, featuring a monobloc engine with pressure lubrication to the crankshaft bearings. This model had an 110-inch (2,800 mm) wheelbase compared with the 120 inches (3,000 mm) of the 40 range. This was joined by four larger cars ranging from the 2.7-litre 15/20 to the 3.7-litre 25.5. [3]

The first six-cylinder model, the 30/50 with 5.1-litre 90 mm (3.5 in) bore by 135 mm (5.3 in) stroke engine came in 1912 with the option of electric lighting. This grew to 5.7 litres in 1913.

At the outbreak of war, as well as the 30/50, the range consisted of the 3-litre 17/25 and the 3.8-litre 20/30.

The cars were usually if not always bodied by external coachbuilders and had a reputation for reliability and solid workmanship. The company maintained a London sales outlet at New Bond Street. When Armstrong Whitworth and Vickers merged, Armstrong Whitworth's automotive interests were purchased by J D Siddeley as Armstrong Siddeley, based in Coventry.

An Armstrong Whitworth car is displayed in the Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne. [3]


Armstrong Whitworth established an Aerial Department in 1912. This later became the Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company. When Vickers and Armstrong Whitworth merged in 1927 to form Vickers-Armstrongs, Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was bought out by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity. [5]


The Elswick Ordnance Company (sometimes referred to as Elswick Ordnance Works, but usually as "EOC") was originally created in 1859 to separate William Armstrong's armaments business from his other business interests, to avoid a conflict of interest as Armstrong was then Engineer of Rifled Ordnance for the War Office and the company's main customer was the British Government. Armstrong held no financial interest in the company until 1864 when he left Government service, and Elswick Ordnance was reunited with the main Armstrong businesses to form Sir W.G. Armstrong & Company. EOC was then the armaments branch of W.G. Armstrong & Company and later of Armstrong Whitworth.

Elswick Ordnance was a major arms developer before and during World War I. The ordnance and ammunition it manufactured for the British Government were stamped EOC, while guns made for export were usually marked "W.G. Armstrong". The 28 cm howitzer L/10 which played a major role in the Siege of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War was developed by Armstrong.


Metropolitan Railway K Class 2-6-4T locomotive Metropolitan Railway 2-6-4T locomotive (CJ Allen, Steel Highway, 1928).jpg
Metropolitan Railway K Class 2-6-4T locomotive
Works plate on Armstrong Whitworth-built LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 45305 showing completion in 1936 LMS 5MT 45305 Sir WGA Plate 1935 edited-2.jpg
Works plate on Armstrong Whitworth-built LMS Stanier Class 5 4-6-0 45305 showing completion in 1936

After the Great War, Armstrong Whitworth converted its Scotswood Works to build railway locomotives. From 1919 it rapidly penetrated the locomotive market due to its modern plant. [6] Its two largest contracts were 200 2-8-0s for the Belgian State Railways in 1920 [7] [8] and 327 Black 5 4-6-0s for the LMS in 1935/36.

AW also modified locomotives. In 1926 Palestine Railways sent six of its H class Baldwin 4-6-0 locomotives to AW for conversion into 4-6-2 tank locomotives to work the PR's steeply graded branch between Jaffa and Jerusalem. [9] PR also sent another six H Class Baldwins for their defective steel fireboxes to be replaced with copper ones. [9]

AW's well-equipped works included its own design department and enabled it to build large locomotives, including an order for 30 engines of three types for the modernisation of the South Australian Railways in 1926. These included ten 500 class 4-8-2 locomotives, which were the largest non-articulated locomotives built in Great Britain, and were based on Alco drawings modified by AW and SAR engineers. They were a sensation in Australia. [10] AW went on to build 20 large three-cylinder "Pacific" type locomotives for the Central Argentine Railway (F.C.C.A) in 1930, with Caprotti valve gear and modern boilers. They were the most powerful locomotives on the F.C.C.A. [11]

AW obtained the UK license for Sulzer diesels from 1919, and by the 1930s was building diesel locomotives and railcars. [12] An early example is the Tanfield Railway's 0-4-0 diesel-electric shed pilot, No.2, which was built by AW as works number D22 in 1933. In the same year, the company launched the UK's first mainline diesel locomotive, the 800 bhp "Universal". [13] It was successful in trials, but not repaired after an engine crankcase explosion a year later. [14] A total of 1,464 locomotives were built at Scotswood Works before it was converted back to armaments manufacture in 1937. [6]

Overseas operations

After the end of WWI demand for armaments and naval ships all but evaporated, and Armstrong Whitworth had to look into diversifying its business.

The company built a hydroelectric station at Nymboida, New South Wales, near Grafton, Australia in 1923–1924. This is still in use and is substantially original. In 1925 the company tendered unsuccessfully to construct the South Brisbane-Richmond Gap (on the New-South Wales-Queensland border) section of the last stage of the standard gauge railway linking Sydney and Brisbane. This was a heavily engineered railway which includes a long tunnel under the Richmond Range forming the state border and a spiral just south of the border. AW's tender price was £1,333,940 compared with Queensland Railway's tender price of £1,130,142. [15] In the mid-1920s the company clearly was trying to break into the booming Australian market, but was stymied by a preference for local companies.

Dominion of Newfoundland, an island country then mostly dependent on fishery, had plenty of pulpwood but only one paper mill at Grand Falls-Windsor and one pulp mill at Bishop's Falls, both built in the 1900s. Reid Newfoundland Company owners managed to convince AW to invest in building a second paper mill with a hydro station within 50 kms from it, and a joint venture of Newfoundland Power and Paper Company Ltd. was founded in 1923. [16] After much fighting between Harry Reid and then-PM of the dominion Richard Squires the so-called Humber project (after the Humber River) received support from the local government and loan guarantees both from it and the UK; Squires even campaigned on it, making "Hum on the Humber" his slogan for the 1923 Newfoundland general election. [17]

The company can be credited with helping to create the town of Deer Lake. Between 1922 and 1925, a hydroelectric station was built there. The canal system used by the hydroelectric station helped to expand the forestry operations in the area. Some of the equipment used in the construction of the Panama Canal was shipped to Newfoundland island. Electricity from the project was used to power a new pulp and paper mill in Corner Brook which started its work in 1925.

Overall, AW spent about £5M (equivalent to £303 million in 2021) on the development, which went significantly over the original budget and led to an overdraft, [18] only to witness a consistent decline in newsprint and pulp prices after 1923, which was caused by overexpansion of the Canadian industry and wasn't predicted by either party of the project, both lacking experience in paper trade. [17] Since on a falling paper market longtime players with established customer bases had a clear advantage, shareholders sold their well-working but overleveraged and loss-making business to International Paper & Power Company in 1927. The deal left AW with a loss of £2.8M, and the whole group collapsed.


Shipbuilding was the major division of the company. From 1879 to 1880 the predecessor shipbuilding company of Charles Mitchell laid down a cruiser for the Chilean Navy at Low Walker Yard. This vessel was later supplied to Japan as the 'Tsukushi' of 1883; the ship was launched as of Armstrong Mitchell build. [19] Between 1885 and 1918 Armstrong built warships for the Royal Navy, Beiyang Fleet, Imperial Russian Navy, Imperial Japanese Navy, and the United States Navy.[ citation needed ] Amongst these were HMS Glatton which, due to bodged construction, suffered a magazine explosion in Dover Harbour less than one month after commissioning.

Armstrong Mitchell and later Armstrong Whitworth built many merchant ships, freighters, tank-ships, and dredgers; notable among them was the ice-breaking train ferries SS Baikal in 1897 and SS Angara in 1900, built to connect the Trans-Siberian Railway across Lake Baikal. [20] [21] The company built the first polar icebreaker in the world: Yermak was a Russian and later Soviet icebreaker, having a strengthened hull shaped to ride over and crush pack ice.

Mergers and demergers

In 1927, the defence and engineering businesses merged with those of Vickers Limited to create a subsidiary company known as Vickers-Armstrongs . The aircraft and Armstrong Siddeley motors business were bought by J. D. Siddeley and became a separate entity. Production at the Scotswood Works ended in 1979 and the buildings were demolished in 1982. [22]


Hydraulic engineering installations

The forerunner companies, W. G. Armstrong & Co. and later, from 1883 Sir WG Armstrong Mitchell & Company, were heavily involved in the construction of hydraulic engineering installations. Notable examples include:


Between 1880 and 1925 they built a number of warships:

They built oil tankers, including:


Armstrong Whitworth built a few railway locomotives between 1847 and 1868, but it was not until 1919 that the company made a concerted effort to enter the railway market. [27]

Many of the locomotives are shown in this catalogue in the collection of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers Armstrong Whitworth Catalogue Cover.jpg
Many of the locomotives are shown in this catalogue in the collection of the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers

Contracts were obtained for the construction and supply of steam and diesel locomotives to railway systems in Britain and overseas, including those detailed in the following table.

1–501919–192150 North Eastern Railway T2 0-8-0 2253–2302to LNER (same numbers) in 1923, class Q6; renumbered 3410–3459 in 1946 scheme. [28]
69–93192125 Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway G
2-8-0 122–146later all-India 26528–26552. [29]
94–110192017 Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway M
2-8-0 483–499later all-India 26610–26626. [30]
111–120192110 Caledonian Railway 72 4-4-0 82–91to LMS 14487–14496 in 1923
137–159192223 North Western Railway SGS 0-6-0 2484–2506 [31] all except one to Pakistan at Partition; [32] 2500 to Eastern Punjab Railway; later all-India 36889. [33]
161–170192210 Buenos Aires Western Railway 4F 2-6-2T 824–833 [34]
175–1791922–235 Midland Great Western Railway Fa 0-6-0 44–48to GSR 641–645 in 1925. [35]
185–19019236 Great Southern and Western Railway 400 4-6-0 407–409
to GSR (same numbers) in 1925. [36]
17 May 1921
200 Belgian State Railways Type 37 2-8-0 5001–5200renumbered Type 31 in 1931. 162 upgraded between 1936 and 1947, unrebuilt engines renumbered Type 30
391–415192225 North Eastern Railway E1 0-6-0T 2313–2339to LNER (same numbers) in 1923, class J72; renumbered 8721–8745 in 1946 scheme. [37]
416–4651921–2250 Midland Railway 3835 / 4F 0-6-0 3937–3986to LMS (same numbers) in 1923
466–467Cancelled(2) Northern Counties Committee (U) 4-4-0 Order cancelled; locomotives built at Derby Works instead. [38]
468–47219225 Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway 3835 / 4F 0-6-0 57–61to LMS 4557–4561 in 1930
479–48719239 North Western Railway SGS 0-6-0 2536–2544 ; [31] to Eastern Bengal Railway 312–318/66/20 in 1929/39; [39] four survivors became all-India 34265–67/73. [40]
488–499192312 North Western Railway SPS 4-4-0 2989–2996, 3006–3009three to Pakistan at Partition; [41] remainder to Eastern Punjab Railway, later all-India 24481–28889. [42]
500–515192316 Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway A
2-6-4T 265–280 [43] to North Western Railway 517–532 (not in order) in 1929; [44] most to Pakistan at Partition; [41] seven to Eastern Punjab Railway, later all-India 27106–27112. [45]
516–535192320 Oudh and Rohilkhand Railway SGS 0-6-0 505–524 [46] to East Indian Railway 1448–1457 in 1925; [47] split between Eastern and Northern Railways, later all-India in range 34236–34243, [40] 36804–36818. [48]
536–552192317 East Indian Railway SGS 0-6-0 1390–1406 [49] split between Eastern and Northern Railways, later all-India in range 34163–34164, [50] 34218–34224, [40] 36792–36811. [48]
565–56619242 Ferrocarril Pacífico de Colombia 4-6-0+0-6-4 29–30 [51]
567–591192325 Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway 11C 4-8-0 4201–4225 [52]
605–616192412 London and North Eastern Railway D11/2 4-4-0 6388–6399Renumbered 2683–2694 in 1946 scheme. [53]
623–632192610 South Australian Railways 600 4-6-2 600–609 [54]
633–642192610 South Australian Railways 500 4-8-2 500–509 [55]
643–652192610 South Australian Railways 700 2-8-2 700–709 [56]
655–701192447 Bengal Nagpur Railway HSM 2-8-0 700–729, 744–760later all-India 26174–26220. [57]
702–70719246 Metropolitan Railway K 2-6-4T 111–116to London and North Eastern Railway 6158–6163, class L2, in 1937; survivors allocated 9070–9073 in 1946 scheme. [58]
714–725192512 Buenos Aires and Pacific Railway 2101 4-6-2 2101–2112 [59]
726–760192535 Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway 11D 2-8-0 4301–4335 [60]
761–76919259 Southern Railway K 2-6-4T A791–A799Rebuilt to U class 2-6-0
771–801192531 Bengal Nagpur Railway HSM 2-8-0 761–791later all-India 26220–26251. [57] [61]
850–874192725 Queensland Railways C17 4-8-0 802–826 [62]
875–884192710 Ferrocarril Central Argentino MS6A 4-8-4T 501–510 [63]
885–904192820 Egyptian State Railways 545 2-6-0 [64] five appropriated by Israel Railways after the 1956 Israeli invasion of Sinai [65]
905–934192730 Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway 11C 4-8-0 4226–4255 [52]
938–987192850 Great Western Railway 5600 0-6-2T 6650–6699 [66]
1005–1015192911 Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway XD 2-8-2 853–863later all-India 22397–22407. [67] [68]
1016–101919294 Great Western of Brazil Railway  [ pt ] 4-6-0 230–233
1020–102319294 Great Western of Brazil Railway  [ pt ] 4-8-0 234–237
1024–102519292 Great Western of Brazil Railway  [ pt ] 2-6-2+2-6-2 238–239 [51]
1026–1037192912 Ceylon Government Railway B1 4-6-0 279–290 [69]
1038–1057193020 Ferrocarril Central Argentino MS6A 4-8-4T 511–530 [63]
1058–1068193011 Eastern Bengal Railway XB 4-6-2 443–453to Pakistan at Partition. [70]
1069–1080193012 Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway XB 4-6-2 200–211later all-India 22131–22142. [71] [72]
1081–1100193020 Ferrocarril Central Argentino PS11 4-6-2 1101–11203-cylinder with Caprotti valve gear. [73]
1105–111019316 Buenos Aires Western Railway 15 4-8-0 1500–1505 [74]
1111–1130193120 London and North Eastern Railway K3/2 2-6-0 1100/01/02/06
Renumbered 1899–1918 in 1946 scheme. [75]
1131–11551930–3125 Great Western Railway 5700 0-6-0PT 7775–7799 [76]
1156–11651934–3510 London and North Eastern Railway K3/2 2-6-0 1302/04/08
Renumbered 1919–1928 in 1946 scheme. [75]
1166–12651935100 London, Midland and Scottish Railway Stanier 5 4-6-0 5125–5224 [77]
1266–126919354 Yue Han Railway, China ET6 0-8-0 501–504
1270–1279193610 London and North Eastern Railway K3/2 2-6-0 2417/29/45/46
Renumbered 1959–1968 in 1946 scheme. [75]
1280–15061936–37227 London, Midland and Scottish Railway Stanier 5 4-6-0 5225–5451 [77]
D81Preston Docks0-6-0deDuchess250 hp shunter
D91Demonstrator1-Co-1de800 hp mixed-traffic diesel-electric [78]
19311 London and North Eastern Railway Railcar25One Sulzer 6-cylinder engine of 250 hp. [79]
19322 London and North Eastern Railway Railcar224, 232One Sulzer 6-cylinder engine of 250 hp. [79]
19331 London and North Eastern Railway Railbus294One Saurer engine of 95 hp. [79]
19331 Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway 1A-Bo+Bo-A1CM210Two Sulzer 8LV34 engines of 850 hp. [80]
D2019331 London, Midland and Scottish Railway 0-6-0de 7408 250 hp shunter; renumbered 7058 in 1934; to have been renumbered 13000 by British Railways in 1948, but withdrawn before number applied. [81]
D21–D2660-4-0de85 hp shunter
D27–D2819342Demonstrator1-Co-1deSulzer 8LD28 engine, 800 hp, 66-inch gauge; trialled on Ceylon Government Railway; returned; to Buenos Aires Great Southern Railway in 1937. [69] [80]
D4319341 Ceylon Government Railway G1 0-4-0de500122 hp shunter. [69]
D46–D5119346 Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway YZZT Railcar1–6160 hp diesel-electric. [72]
D54–D63193610 London, Midland and Scottish Railway 0-6-0de 7059–7068 350 hp shunter; to War Department in 1942 (4) and 1944 (6). [82]
D6419361 Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway DE0-6-0de800360 hp shunter. [43]


Cannons and other armament were produced by the Elswick Ordnance Company, the armament division of Armstrong Whitworth. An especially notable example is the Armstrong 100-ton gun.

See also

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